Cancer researchers in lab

An update on cancer research during the Covid-19 pandemic

Irish Cancer Society Director of Research Dr Robert O'Connor discusses the challenges facing cancer research over the course of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and the important work that must continue in this area

A great deal of vital cancer research is now only starting to resume after a big drop-off in activity due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Restrictions brought out during the height of the outbreak in Ireland such as the closure of higher education institutions meant many labs hosting cutting-edge cancer research projects had to be totally closed for a number of weeks.

Clinical trials which are critical for developing new cancer treatments had to stop taking on new patients or were postponed, and no new trials could start during this time.

With the labs closed only computer-based research activities could proceed, while staff and equipment across the country had to be redirected to helping in the national effort against Covid-19.

Many of the over 100 researchers around Ireland funded by the Irish Cancer Society who are working hard to find new ways of stopping cancer were suddenly tasked with using their life-saving skills to treat the waves of patients coming into hospitals, or to help with Covid tracking and testing.

Even in our own Research team in the Irish Cancer Society, staff volunteered to help answer calls on our Freephone Support Line as thousands of cancer patients got in touch for advice on staying safe from infection, how their treatment would proceed and much more.

Thankfully cancer research has started to ramp back up across the country since the outbreak was at its peak, but it’s by no means back to normal.

Researchers are still experiencing shortages of some materials they need to do their work, and they face significant challenges in having to alter the layout of labs so they can keep social distancing safely.

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Cancer researchers around Ireland are doing their best to adjust to the ‘new normal’

Director of Research Dr Robert O'Connor

Some good news is that clinical trials which had started before the pandemic are now taking on patients again, but the outlook for many new trials that were planned to begin this year remains uncertain with hospitals still not back to normal.

Cancer researchers around Ireland are doing their best to adjust to the ‘new normal’ as they seek to continue improve outcomes for those impacted by cancer, which remains Ireland’s single biggest killer.

In the Irish Cancer Society we have been maintaining contact with all of our funded researchers throughout this recent uncertainty. We are doing our best to support them to continue with their essential work as we seek to get operations back running at the highest level possible.

As we adjust to the new reality of today’s world we remain as dedicated as ever to delivering ground-breaking initiatives in the area of research, like our Women’s Health Initiative which will soon provide Ireland’s first ever comprehensive hospital-based service specifically helping women to deal with the often deeply challenging side effects of their cancer treatment through pilot clinics in Dublin and Cork, and our ongoing association with Precision Oncology Ireland to identify new ways to better personalise cancer treatments for patients.

This is again a significant challenge but one that we can look forward to taking on with the support of our staff, researchers, partner organisations and incredible donors who make our work towards a future without cancer possible.